“I absolutely love this business!”—Me, I’ve said that … more than once.
Why are you taking this class?
A fair question for the first day of Stephen F. Austin State University’s gateway course into the discipline of journalism 30-plus years ago. Every new class was filled with students whose goals were as varied as their educational and cultural backgrounds. My purpose for asking was to learn more about those aspirations.
After fielding responses, I narrowed the focus. “In addition to interviewing, writing, grammar, and other related skills you seek to achieve your dreams, we will also touch on required qualities not taught in any text I’ve seen thus far.”
Always preaching the gospel of community newspapers, I hoped that a few in every class would follow that path where a working knowledge of more than classroom education was necessary for real-world satisfaction. “Enjoying what you do and fulfilling your commitment to subscribers and advertisers will sometimes depend on how you react to the unexpected and require actions unrelated to what you learn in the classroom.
“Those are the days when you will learn that loving the business is what keeps you coming back to it,” I concluded. “That love for the business, and as they say, ‘having ink flowing through your veins’ is more than just an old saying—it’s a way of life.”
Those words came back and tapped lightly on my shoulder again last week. The week started as expected, more than an average week in many aspects because of graduations and heading into a national holiday weekend.
The unexpected occurred before lunch with a call from the pressroom: the machine that produces imaging plates for the printing press had malfunctioned halfway through the day’s scheduled six press runs.
Knowing how to run a press is just part of the necessary skills required to manage a printing plant. The other half is knowing how to perform as much of the maintenance and repairs as possible. Darrell Martinez and his crew are as good as they come in that department. However, reviving the plate processor that day eluded their best efforts.
Far fewer newspapers today have press rooms than when I first warned of expecting the unexpected. The attrition of print products, economics and other factors have led newspapers the size of Nacogdoches, Marshall, and many others to close their press rooms and buy that service elsewhere. The Light and Champion, however, still operates the press it’s had for more than 40 years, and in addition to the local paper, prints publications from all over East Texas. Newspapers from New Boston to Sulphur Springs, Atlanta to Mount Pleasant and many in between are printed in Center.
Fewer presses also make duplicity and backup critical. But last week’s failure and the rare failure of an attempted backup device delivered a perfect printing storm.
A call to the support service resulted in a tech on the ground Tuesday. His ultimate diagnosis was a failed part that could not be acquired and installed before Thursday. Equally frustrating were challenges to plan B: working to find another press capable of producing compatible plates to run on Center’s press. Roadblocks there included things like the width of newsprint, the size of printing plates, and conflicting software programs.
Deafening silence in the press room was looming heavily when help came. The folks at The Longview News-Journal an hour to the north of us offered a solution. A Tuesday night trip in their direction resulted in plates by around 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, and the roar of presses rolling could be heard again on Austin Street in Center soon after. By mid-day Wednesday, press runs from Monday and Tuesday were printed, inserted, labeled, and delivered.
Parts arrived late Wednesday, the tech was back early Thursday, and the disabled machine was soon back online restoring a sense of normality by mid-day. Around the clock dedication by our team, good support service, and help from a neighboring newspaper had averted a disaster.
That was the moment when I finally relaxed, smiled, and said one more time, “I absolutely love this business!”
(Photo at top of the page by Leon Aldridge – The Light and Champion printing press in Center, Texas.)
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